April 27, 2022

Take a Virtual Tour Through The Lyon-Martin House

Located in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, the Lyon-Martin House is the former home of pioneering lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. From 1955, the home served as a community and meeting space for the first lesbian civil rights organization, Daughters of Bilitis, and was central to the couple's lifelong activism and partnership.

For decades, their home transcended both their private and public lives, serving as both a safe space for queer communities and a meeting place for political action. Today the home remains a touchstone for celebrating LGBTQ+ history and igniting ongoing activism in the fight for equality.

In the spring of 2021, the newly formed Friends of Lyon-Martin House reached out to CyArk—a nonprofit organization committed to empowering connections with historic places—about their interest in documenting the house of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. The project was a unique opportunity to tell a piece of lesser-known history and to engage with a variety of community members in bringing their story to life.

Historical Photo of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

photo by: Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Papers (1993-13), GLBT Historical Society

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon sitting in the living room of their home.

CyArk was thrilled to be able to work with the Friends of Lyon-Martin House as well as the GLBT Historical Society to identify individuals who could speak to the history of the house and the legacy of Lyon and Martin. CyArk applied its digital documentation process to record the house as it exists today, documenting the space utilizing LiDAR and photogrammetry to create an accurate 3D model of the home. It also worked with various members of the community to capture stories about the couple and the house itself.

Finally, these resources were combined with archival research in the GLBT Historical Society archives to virtually reimagine the space as it was during Lyon and Martin’s lifetime. The resulting 3D tour of the house provides unique insight into the lives and work of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and helps to make sure others can learn about and share in their legacy. Take a tour of the Lyon-Martin House and experience the place and its stories. Highlights of the tour include:

Stop 8: The Curtain Window

View of the picture window (inside looking out) in a virtual tour. The bottom right corner has two screens with additional information.

photo by: CyArk

Learn more about one of the defining features of the home and how this window became a symbol of progress during Lyon and Martin’s lifetime. Dr. Marcia Gallo provides insight into the function of the house as an incubator of ideas as well as a social space for early members in the lesbian rights movement.

“The house, I always saw it as their incubator. It was their home, it was their haven. It was also their social space.”

Marcia Gallo, Associate Professor of History at University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Stop 10: The Record Player

View of one of the rooms in the Lyon-Martin House Virtual Tour. This shows a bookshelf and some virtual renderings of what would have been in the now empty space.

photo by: CyArk

Get a sense of what it might have been like to attend an event inside the house during Lyon and Martin’s lifetime. Music plays from the record player and the bare walls have been historically recreated using archival materials from the GLBT Historical Society.

Stop 12: The Den

Interior of the Lyon-Martin House Virtual Tour.

photo by: CyArk

Hear directly from Lyon and Martin about their efforts to raise awareness of and normalize lesbianism. They share stories of how they helped others within their community with self-acceptance as a first step towards community acceptance.

“Phyllis and I finally came to the realization that our biggest problem was self-acceptance, because once you got yourself together, then you can begin to cope with society and so on.”

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Herstory Video Project 1987

Stop 14: Daily Life in the Kitchen

View of the kitchen in the Lyon-Martin House virtual tour. The cabinets are a salmon color.

photo by: Cyark

Step inside the 1950s-era kitchen of the small home to get a glimpse of how Lyon and Martin went about their day-to-day lives together. Listen to Lyon and Martin’s daughter, Kendra Mon, as she shares stories about their routine and their love of cats.

“That’s where they ate their meal. That’s where they talked about things. That’s where they maybe wrote.”

Kendra Mon, Daughter of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Stop 15: Stair Lift

Exterior view of the Lyon Martin House (close up) with it's distinctive blue walls and the infamous picture window.

photo by: Cyark

The outside of the home speaks to Lyon and Martin’s long life there. The stair lift was installed to allow continued access to the house, located on a steep hill. Learn about the community of caregivers that allowed Lyon to remain in the house until her death, as was her wish.

“We built the team, this fantastic team, of mostly queer artists...and she was cared for by these wonderful companions.”

Kendra Mon, Daughter of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Stop 17: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon’s Legacy

Exterior view of the Lyon Martin House within it's broader context. In this image you can see the yard and the buildings on either side.

photo by: Cyark

End your tour with a view of the exterior of the humble home and with thoughts from Professor Don Romesburg as he shares more about the legacy of Lyon and Martin and how they have personally impacted his life.

“It can feel like world making. It can feel like creating cultural possibility, an expansive kind of way to imagine how we belong to the world and how the world belongs to us.”

Don Romesburg, Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, Sonoma State University

This 3D guided tour was made possible through a generous grant from Iron Mountain and their Living Legacy program. A grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Preservation Fund helped support the costs associated with collecting three of the oral histories for this project.

Whitney Peterson is a program manager at CyArk.

By: Whitney Peterson

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